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      Type I-E CRISPR-Cas Systems Discriminate Target from Non-Target DNA through Base Pairing-Independent PAM Recognition

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          Discriminating self and non-self is a universal requirement of immune systems. Adaptive immune systems in prokaryotes are centered around repetitive loci called CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), into which invader DNA fragments are incorporated. CRISPR transcripts are processed into small RNAs that guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to invading nucleic acids by complementary base pairing. However, to avoid autoimmunity it is essential that these RNA-guides exclusively target invading DNA and not complementary DNA sequences (i.e., self-sequences) located in the host's own CRISPR locus. Previous work on the Type III-A CRISPR system from Staphylococcus epidermidis has demonstrated that a portion of the CRISPR RNA-guide sequence is involved in self versus non-self discrimination. This self-avoidance mechanism relies on sensing base pairing between the RNA-guide and sequences flanking the target DNA. To determine if the RNA-guide participates in self versus non-self discrimination in the Type I-E system from Escherichia coli we altered base pairing potential between the RNA-guide and the flanks of DNA targets. Here we demonstrate that Type I-E systems discriminate self from non-self through a base pairing-independent mechanism that strictly relies on the recognition of four unchangeable PAM sequences. In addition, this work reveals that the first base pair between the guide RNA and the PAM nucleotide immediately flanking the target sequence can be disrupted without affecting the interference phenotype. Remarkably, this indicates that base pairing at this position is not involved in foreign DNA recognition. Results in this paper reveal that the Type I-E mechanism of avoiding self sequences and preventing autoimmunity is fundamentally different from that employed by Type III-A systems. We propose the exclusive targeting of PAM-flanked sequences to be termed a target versus non-target discrimination mechanism.

          Author Summary

          CRISPR loci and their associated genes form a diverse set of adaptive immune systems that are widespread among prokaryotes. In these systems, the CRISPR-associated genes ( cas) encode for proteins that capture fragments of invading DNA and integrate these sequences between repeat sequences of the host's CRISPR locus. This information is used upon re-infection to degrade invader genomes. Storing invader sequences in host genomes necessitates a mechanism to differentiate between invader sequences on invader genomes and invader sequences on the host genome. CRISPR-Cas of Staphylococcus epidermidis (Type III-A system) is inhibited when invader sequences are flanked by repeat sequences, and this prevents targeting of the CRISPR locus on the host genome. Here we demonstrate that Escherichia coli CRISPR-Cas (Type I-E system) is not inhibited by repeat sequences. Instead, this system is specifically activated by the presence of bona fide Protospacer Adjacent Motifs (PAMs) in the target. PAMs are conserved sequences adjoining invader sequences on the invader genome, and these sequences are never adjacent to invader sequences within host CRISPR loci. PAM recognition is not affected by base pairing potential of the target with the crRNA. As such, the Type I-E system lacks the ability to specifically recognize self DNA.

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          Most cited references 44

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          CRISPR interference limits horizontal gene transfer in staphylococci by targeting DNA.

          Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in bacteria and archaea occurs through phage transduction, transformation, or conjugation, and the latter is particularly important for the spread of antibiotic resistance. Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) loci confer sequence-directed immunity against phages. A clinical isolate of Staphylococcus epidermidis harbors a CRISPR spacer that matches the nickase gene present in nearly all staphylococcal conjugative plasmids. Here we show that CRISPR interference prevents conjugation and plasmid transformation in S. epidermidis. Insertion of a self-splicing intron into nickase blocks interference despite the reconstitution of the target sequence in the spliced mRNA, which indicates that the interference machinery targets DNA directly. We conclude that CRISPR loci counteract multiple routes of HGT and can limit the spread of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria.
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            Phage response to CRISPR-encoded resistance in Streptococcus thermophilus.

            Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and their associated genes are linked to a mechanism of acquired resistance against bacteriophages. Bacteria can integrate short stretches of phage-derived sequences (spacers) within CRISPR loci to become phage resistant. In this study, we further characterized the efficiency of CRISPR1 as a phage resistance mechanism in Streptococcus thermophilus. First, we show that CRISPR1 is distinct from previously known phage defense systems and is effective against the two main groups of S. thermophilus phages. Analyses of 30 bacteriophage-insensitive mutants of S. thermophilus indicate that the addition of one new spacer in CRISPR1 is the most frequent outcome of a phage challenge and that the iterative addition of spacers increases the overall phage resistance of the host. The added new spacers have a size of between 29 to 31 nucleotides, with 30 being by far the most frequent. Comparative analysis of 39 newly acquired spacers with the complete genomic sequences of the wild-type phages 2972, 858, and DT1 demonstrated that the newly added spacer must be identical to a region (named proto-spacer) in the phage genome to confer a phage resistance phenotype. Moreover, we found a CRISPR1-specific sequence (NNAGAAW) located downstream of the proto-spacer region that is important for the phage resistance phenotype. Finally, we show through the analyses of 20 mutant phages that virulent phages are rapidly evolving through single nucleotide mutations as well as deletions, in response to CRISPR1.
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              Interference by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) RNA is governed by a seed sequence.

              Prokaryotic clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas (CRISPR-associated sequences) systems provide adaptive immunity against viruses when a spacer sequence of small CRISPR RNA (crRNA) matches a protospacer sequence in the viral genome. Viruses that escape CRISPR/Cas resistance carry point mutations in protospacers, though not all protospacer mutations lead to escape. Here, we show that in the case of Escherichia coli subtype CRISPR/Cas system, the requirements for crRNA matching are strict only for a seven-nucleotide seed region of a protospacer immediately following the essential protospacer-adjacent motif. Mutations in the seed region abolish CRISPR/Cas mediated immunity by reducing the binding affinity of the crRNA-guided Cascade complex to protospacer DNA. We propose that the crRNA seed sequence plays a role in the initial scanning of invader DNA for a match, before base pairing of the full-length spacer occurs, which may enhance the protospacer locating efficiency of the E. coli Cascade complex. In agreement with this proposal, single or multiple mutations within the protospacer but outside the seed region do not lead to escape. The relaxed specificity of the CRISPR/Cas system limits escape possibilities and allows a single crRNA to effectively target numerous related viruses.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS Genet
                PLoS Genet
                PLoS Genetics
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                September 2013
                September 2013
                5 September 2013
                : 9
                : 9
                [1 ]Laboratory of Microbiology, Department of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
                [2 ]Waksman Institute, Piscataway, New Jersey, United States of America
                [3 ]Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States of America
                [4 ]Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, United States of America
                [5 ]Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Rutgers, The State University, Piscataway, New Jersey, United States of America
                [6 ]Institutes of Molecular Genetics and Gene Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
                University of Geneva Medical School, Switzerland
                Author notes

                The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: ERW ES KS SJJB. Performed the experiments: ERW ES KAD. Analyzed the data: ERW ES KS SJJB RNJ BW. Wrote the paper: ERW.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 13
                This work was financially supported by an NWO Vidi grant to SJJB (864.11.005). RNJ and BW are supported by the National Institutes of Health (GM 103500) and the Montana State University Agricultural Experimental Station. ES, KAD and KS are supported by an NIH grant RO1 GM10407, a program grant in Molecular and Cell Biology from Presidium of Russian Academy of Sciences and a Russian Foundation for Basic Research grant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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